Getting down to brass tacks

Police Commander Arik Yakuel asserts that crime costs us all a lot more than prevention would.

police 88 (photo credit: )
police 88
(photo credit: )
Cmdr. Arik Yakuel is somewhat of a soothsayer. As the outgoing head of the Israel Police's Planning Department, he has spent the past five years predicting challenges the force would face in the future. He is also the closest thing the Police has to a Jewish prophet. Until this month, Yakuel, 49, was the sole religious member of the senior brass - his large black kippa, beard and sidelocks making him stand out among his peers. Yakuel joined the police "by chance" when he was 24 and a freshly discharged military officer from the Engineering Corps. He began his career in the Israel Police Bomb Squad, moving up the ranks until becoming commander of the prestigious, world-renowned unit during the height of the bus-bombing attacks in the mid 1990s. After years of shying away from the media, Yakuel found himself in the spotlight two months ago when the tires on his police-issued car were repeatedly slashed outside his Har Nof home - allegedly by right-wing activists punishing the senior officer for participating in the summer withdrawal from Gaza. In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, Yakuel bemoaned the lack of resources allocated to the police, attributing this to poor prioritizing on the part of the government, and blaming it for the force's being unable to effectively combat a seemingly growing crime wave. The only way to alter this sad state of affairs, he said, is through public pressure on the political echelon. Why has the police not received the resources it requires to grow and effectively fight crime? Studies have been done to evaluate the financial damage crime inflicts on society. Car accidents cost more than NIS10 billion a year; fraud-related crimes cost the economy more than NIS12 billion. We are talking about tens of billions of shekels that society loses every year because of crime. Extortion costs businesses in the South millions, and National Insurance Institute fraud is already in the billions. According to our estimations, based on studies by economists from the Israel Police and the Internal Security Ministry, if the government invested more in the police force, the financial damage to society would drastically reduce. According to my theory, by investing in the police, we could save billions, while increasing the public's level of security. We would also have money saved from preventing crime that could be reinvested into important societal needs, such as education and health-care. The bottom line is that the police force is a good investment, since it saves government money. How much needs to be invested in the police force to reduce the financial damage to society? Look at the number of policemen per 1,000 residents in Europe [In Israel, it is 2.4; in Europe, it is 4.8 - Y.K.]. Look at what [Rudolph] Giuliani did in New York: He flooded the streets with more policemen. In Israel, we need at least double the number of policemen. This is the minimum. Take the Economics Crime Unit, which was recently established through special funding from the Treasury. The reason the police received the special funding was because the new unit succeeded in saving the economy billions of shekels every year. Ideally, what should the police budget be? Something in the range of NIS10-12 billion - close to double what it is today. The structure of the budget is also wrong, since the ratio of manpower to the rest of it is around 85:15. This means that 85 percent of the budget is spent on manpower expenses - such as salaries- while a mere 15% goes to developing and purchasing new technology. With this ratio, it is virtually impossible to operate an efficient police force. It is true that you need police on the street to prevent crime, but the ratio needs to be adjusted to something along the lines of 70:30, to allow us to invest more in technology. Today this is impossible. We can't lower the number of policemen on the streets, since we only have 2.4 policemen per 1,000 citizens. To change this ratio would be suicide. We need to add, not subtract, policemen. But we can't do this, since if we invest more money in recruiting, we won't have enough money to pay for the gas for our squad cars. We are in a trap. Does the police lack the proper technology to fight crime? We need a significant boost in this area, though over the past few years, the Israel Police has made a technological revolution, particularly in the field of Information Technologies. It has even won several international prizes for it. But the lack of additional technology hinders the police's ability to do its job. Investigations take longer. We have more difficulty getting to the truth. We can't operate as many agents as we need. The absurdity is that we know where crimes are being committed, and if we only had the resources, we could prevent them. How does the police deal with its security missions, which take its attention away from crime-fighting? In the past, the IDF and the police were independent bodies with independent roles. In 1974, internal security responsibilities were transferred to the Israel Police and slowly the army, and the police began to cross paths. Today, there are units in the police that have missions that overlap with those of the army. Take, for example, the security along the seam line with the West Bank. The Border Police patrol along both sides of the line. On one side they are under the command of the police, and on the other side they are under the command of the army. If we are doing security work, there is no reason why new recruits shouldn't be able to do their military service with the police. At the end of the day we are also responsible for the country's security. This is a new idea. In the past, it would have been considered a joke. Now it is becoming a reality. However, I wouldn't want to see IDF soldiers manning checkpoints within an Israeli city. This is against democratic principles. This is why the police need to carry out such tasks. The police force is adopting the "9-point plan" for reform that you created. What does it entail and what is its goal? It entails structural changes that will alter the way the police looks. Its goal is to create a more effective force that can better deter criminals - and to become a force that provides better service to the public. We want to improve our yield and our results - our yield being how many suspects we succeed in keeping in jail until the end of legal proceedings, and our results based on whether we succeed in improving the citizens' quality of life by lowering crime. It is important to put an additional 10 crime families behind bars, but that is our yield. A positive result would be if the crime level subsequently decreased and another 10 crime families didn't take their places. For years, we have been in the process of planning operations to meet challenges we will face in the future. How can you predict future challenges? We don't need to be prophets. We need to look at where the country is headed. We can see how much money is going to be invested in railway systems and roads, and then we can prepare the police accordingly. We can also see where the government plans to invest money in settling people, and which cities are slated for expansion.